Last week Philip Kennicott, the WaPo's architecture critic, did a near-scathing review of most of the building done for the Olympics. The "Bird's Nest" stadium and the aquatic building, the Water Cube, are inspired masterpieces he thinks will be admired for years to come. But the rest of the venues are mediocre at best, pedestrian even. And take note. I haven't watched all of the TV coverage by a long shot, but I haven't seen any of the other buildings shown from the outside. Kennicott thinks the plaza in which these two cool buildings are has an overall effect that is "cold, elegant and unwelcoming. The overwhelming amount of open space, painfully more apparent in the months before the Olympics, when it was empty of all but workers, is oppressive, and it will be hard to make the plaza anything more than a totalitarian showplace after the Games." So far NBC hasn't shown us enough of these other buildings to make anything resembling an informed judgment, but that very fact suggests that the other buildings are no great shakes.
It's also interesting that China is so relentless in its pursuit of more medals than the U.S. wins. I guess the U.S. got four more last time. So what China did was to form Operation 119, after studying events that give out a lot of medals China hasn't really gone after -- 16 medals in canoe/kayak, for example -- and put together a program to find and train athletes to go after those medals. That's the kind of thing a totalitarian or authoritarian society can do. A freer society has to depend on the interest and enthusiasm athletes and potential athletes develop when young and (for the most part) count on parents to finance those Olympic dreams.